This isn’t our first lap around the sun, yet every summer, we make the rookie mistake of neglecting sunscreen, even one single time. And the burn is excruciating. Each year, we vow to never make the mistake again, and each year… we make the vow again.
Perhaps by making a bigger promise to yourself (and to your skin), the smaller step of remembering sunscreen will feel like a habit. Let this summer be the first one where you prioritize proper suncare across the board. It extends past simply applying sunscreen at the beach. Doing so can prevent premature “photoaging” caused by the sun’s UV rays. It thwarts things like fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots (and new moles, among them), as well as the risk of skin cancer.
Follow these tips every day, and every summer, to build a sun-friendly regimen. Who knows, it could go as far as to guarantee a few more laps around the sun.
1. Remember the Tenets of SPF
There are some universally agreed-upon rules of SPF that dermatologists want you to follow. First off, your SPF should be 30 or higher. That has to do with the fact that SPF 30 blocks up to 97% of UVB rays (those that cause skin cancer and DNA mutation), and the increases are fairly incremental from there (SPF 50 blocks 98% of them, so it’s a fairly nominal difference as you go up; even SPF 100 cannot block them all). However, as you decrease, it gaps are much greater: SPF 15 blocks only 93% of UVB rays.
Many people mistakenly assume that SPF 30 offers twice the coverage of SPF 15, and 50 offers over three times the protection. Instead, SPF, which stands for Sun Protection Factor, refers to how much longer it takes your skin to burn if you use each type of coverage. So, SPF 15 will protect skin 15 times longer than if you wore nothing at all, while SPF 30 will protect it 30 times longer. (Skin typically starts to burn after 10 minutes without protection, so SPF 15 shields it for about 150 minutes, and SPF 30 for 300.)
2. Still, Apply Liberally
The above information doesn’t mean that you should wait 2.5 or even 5 hours between applications. The recommended duration is 2 hours between each application. Part of this is because most people apply far less sunscreen than they should (as little as one quarter the suggested quantity). So, but shielding yourself with SPF 30 every two hours, you should be safe from any burns—while still enjoying some tanning effects if that’s your aim.
Be sure to apply up to 30 minutes before intense exposure, too, which typically means applying before you hit the park or the beach. This gives the SPF time to settle onto the skin and properly shield. And even if your sunscreen is waterproof for up to 80 minutes, it’s important to apply it after any dip in the water.
3. Know Your Sunscreen
Is your sunscreen broad spectrum? Meaning, does it protect you from both types of UV rays? Make sure of it, because one type of UV rays burns the skin and increases the odds of skin cancer (UVB), while the other has wrinkling and hyperpigmentation effects on the skin (UVA). You want a broad-spectrum sunblock that shields against both.
Secondly, is your sunscreen physical (with a mineral shield-like zinc or titanium), which sits physically atop the skin? Or is it chemical (with any variety of sun-shielding ingredients, like avobenzone, oxybenzone, or octocrylene), which absorbs into the skin in order to protect it? Physical sunscreens are generally much safer for you (and the environment/sea life), as some chemical ingredients are known to inversely impact the body (traces of oxybenzone, for example, can be found in breast milk, or could even lower sperm quality). That’s not to say all chemical options are bad, but you should be aware of what you’re putting on your skin, and how it impacts you (and the environment). Typically, you’ll need more product if you use mineral options, and they may leave a white cast on the skin; it’s a small price to pay for the safer option of the two.
4. Keep the Face and Body Separate
Just as you would use different moisturizers on your face and body, you should also apply dedicated face sunscreens to the face, and dedicated body sunscreens to the body. Many body sunscreens can clog the pores on the face, and lead to breakouts or even intense sweating (which would then require a new application).
Many brands also sell SPF-packed moisturizers for the face, which is a terrific daily moisturizer option, and equally effective for a beach day (assuming it’s SPF 30+, broad-spectrum, and applied every 2 hours).
5. Don’t Neglect the Scalp
A full head of hair creates a nice shield from the sun, but if you’re thinning at all (or are buzzed short or balding), then you need to apply sunscreen thoroughly to the top of your head. By frying the top of your head, you would cause serious and irreversible damage to your precious hair follicles. A spray-on option might be the easiest if you have thinning hair, though a hat also always works well.
6. Have a Post-Sun Recovery Plan
We all know that a layer of aloe soothes burnt skin, but the aim here is to avoid getting burnt altogether. Still, after a day in the sun, your skin is exhausted, dehydrated, and agonized, even if you lack any burns (and especially if you’ve got a tan).
Take a cold shower when you get home, using a gentle cleanser and soap. After, apply body lotion and a facial moisturizer, ideally with soothing ingredients like chamomile, green tea, or aloe. Vitamin C-packed products will also help pump antioxidants into the skin, knock out any free radicals, and prevent additional sun damage.
Avoid anything harsh on the skin, like retinol, chemical exfoliants (AHAs/BHAs), physical scrubs, harsh cleansers, and scented products. Let your skin recover for the day—and stay hydrated, please. You should be set to resume your regular regimen by the next day or two.